A Latin Spoonerism

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Arthur Schopenhauer was so ill-tempered that he once assaulted an elderly seamstress for talking outside his door.

A court ordered him to pay her 15 thalers every quarter for the rest of her life.

When she finally passed away 20 years later, he wrote in his account book Obit anus, abit onus — Latin for “The old woman dies, the burden is lifted.”

Eh?

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As the Battle of Trafalgar commenced, Horatio Nelson famously signalled the English fleet that “England expects that every man will do his duty.”

Actually that message arose only due to a last-minute conference on the flagship, as signal officer John Pasco recalled after the battle:

His Lordship came to me on the poop, and after ordering certain signals to be made, about a quarter to noon, he said, ‘Mr. Pasco, I wish to say to the fleet, ENGLAND CONFIDES THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY,’ and he added, ‘You must be quick, for I have one more to make which is for close action.’ I replied, ‘If your Lordship will permit me to substitute the word expects for confides, the signal will soon be completed, because the word expects is in the vocabulary, and confides must be spelt.’ His Lordship replied, in haste, and with seeming satisfaction, ‘That will do, Pasco, make it directly.’

The days of such clear language are over — in an August 1939 letter to the London Times, A.P. Herbert wrote:

Alas, the strong silent Services have been corrupted, too. If Nelson had to repeat his famous signal today it would probably run thus:–

England anticipates that as regards the current emergency personnel will face up to the issue and exercise appropriately the functions allocated to their respective occupation-groups.

A Six-Legged Hiawatha

“Tribes of the Scale Wings,” an appallingly terrible poem by Edward Newman, 1857:

Let us take a stroll, my Laura,
Down Farm Lane and to the sedge pond,
Where thy father often fishes
For the pretty water beetles,
Grapii and branchiatus,
Hubneri and marginalis,
Agilis and punctulatus,
Ater, Sturmii and fusous,
Pretty Colymbetes fuscus,
That my Laura once caught flying.
Thence we’ll turn to rural Burnt Ash.
Haply we may meet with Stainton,
With his ardent class around him.
As we walk I’ll try and teach thee
Something more about the Scale Wings.
Lepidoptera, or Scale Wings,
Are the butterflies and night moths,
And we know them by the scaled wings,
And the mouth, so like a watch spring,
Coiled up underneath their faces …

[this goes on for nine pages]

… But their structure, so abnormal,
Serves to indicate the sequence
Of the Tipulæ or Craneflies,
Which we must ere long consider.
This discourse on Scale Wings ended,
I will pick these purple vetches,
Purple vetches, Vicia cracca,
And I’ll twine them in a chaplet,
And the Queen of Scale Wings crown thee.

Newman’s collection The Insect Hunters contains corresponding odes to the Diptera, Hymenoptera, Coleoptera, Stegoptera, Neuroptera, Hemiptera, and Orthoptera, including an affectionate nod to earwigs.

Grunt Work

http://books.google.com/books?id=XShRAQAAIAAJ

During World War I, one of the worst jobs in the French army was that of wirecutter, the scout deputed to cut through the wire entanglements set up by the enemy, often unprotected in exposed positions. To improve his chances, the army introduced this one-man tank. From Popular Science Monthly, May 1917:

The device is made to resemble a cannon which it is hoped will be considered by the enemy to be broken and discarded. It is provided with slits and larger openings through which the scout may see and get air. The wheels, though apparently rusty and old, are smooth-running and noiseless, and the legs of the scout, moving cautiously at the rate of perhaps one-half inch per minute during critical times, resemble the drooping muzzle of the gun — or it is hoped that they will.

“It is also considered among the possibilities that the device will be of service when it is necessary for a bold and death-defying dash to be made through showers of shrapnel into the teeth of the foe. But this is problematical since the device is not made for rapidity of movement.”

Unquote

“It is in the character of very few men to honor without envy a friend who has prospered.” — Aeschylus

“No one is completely unhappy at the failure of his best friend.” — Groucho Marx

“We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don’t like?” — Jean Cocteau

“It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.” — Gore Vidal

Warm Words

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Future president Herbert Hoover published a surprising title in 1912: An English translation of the 16th-century mining textbook De Re Metallica, composed originally by Georg Bauer in 1556. Bauer’s book had remained a classic work in the field for two centuries, with some copies deemed so valuable that they were chained to church altars, but no one had translated the Latin into good modern English. Biographer David Burner wrote, “Hoover and his wife had the distinct advantage of combining linguistic ability with mineralogical knowledge.”

Hoover, a mining engineer, and his wife Lou, a linguist, spent five years on the project, visiting the areas in Saxony that Bauer had described, ordering translations of related mining books, and spending more than $20,000 for experimental help in investigating the chemical processes that the book described.

The Hoovers offered the 637-page work, complete with the original woodcuts, to “strengthen the traditions of one of the most important and least recognized of the world’s professions.” Of the 3,000 copies that were printed, Hoover gave away more than half to mining engineers and students.

Misc

  • AWE and WONDER are synonyms, but AWFUL and WONDERFUL are antonyms.
  • Abraham Lincoln is in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
  • Ravel described Boléro as “a piece for orchestra without music.”
  • “In politics, what begins in fear usually ends in folly.” — Coleridge

“The Gun Within a Gun”

http://books.google.com/books?id=HCkKAAAAIAAJ

This must set some sort of record for aggressiveness — during World War I, Andrew Graham invented a shell that fires bullets. From Popular Science Monthly, February 1918:

The projectile is pierced with a dozen or so of rifled channels, each constituting a barrel loaded with a regulation rifle cartridge. … A shell like that which Mr. Graham has conceived can be timed to discharge its bullets efficiently, far from its target, unlike shrapnel. The bullets do not lose in velocity, thanks to their elongated form and their rotation. Their velocity is the sum of the shell’s velocity and their own.

Actually aiming the bullets, though, is another matter. “The firing can be timed so that at least one volley will scatter properly.”

Mail Room

In the ‘London Times’ of 1841 a lady advertised in the columns of that newspaper for duplicates, which she put to a more curious use than most people. The advertisement said:– ‘A young lady being desirous of covering her dressing room with cancelled postage stamps, has been so far encouraged in her wish by private friends as to have succeeded in collecting 16,008. These, however, being insufficient, she will be greatly obliged if any good natured persons who may have these (otherwise useless) little articles at their disposal, would assist her whimsical project. Address, E.D., Mr Butt’s, Glover, Leadenhall Street, or Marshall’s, Jeweller, Hackney.’

American Philatelist, Feb. 1, 1919

Tacet

William Bliss’ 1949 book The Real Shakespeare concludes with a “Shakespeare examination paper for reasonably advanced students.” It includes this question:

5. What character (and in what play) has the shortest part; appears only once (and that in a stage direction); and says nothing — and yet is essential to the plot?

I thought this might make a good puzzle — but I don’t know the answer! Bliss withholds his, and despite a lot of fumbling research I can’t find a significant player in Shakespeare who says nothing at all. Maybe the bear in The Winter’s Tale? I’ll leave it here as an open-ended riddle.

UPDATE: In the messages I’ve received, the most popular candidate is Banquo’s ghost in Macbeth. Banquo appears alive and speaks early in the play, but Macbeth has him murdered in Act III and his ghost haunts Macbeth silently thereafter, plaguing his conscience. In the stage directions, the ghost is called “Ghost of Banquo,” so arguably this is a distinct character.

09/13/2013 Another possibility: the corpse of Henry VI in Richard III. He appears once, carried in a coffin while Richard woos the mourning Lady Anne; he certainly says nothing; and his death and the victory of the Yorkists set off the events of the play. (Thanks, Josh.)